During the night of November 8, I didn’t sleep. The disturbing outcome of the election continued to keep me awake for the next two nights, as I tried to absorb the shock of a reality show host and serial business failure becoming President. Like most Americans, I had long given up hope that Congress could reign in its extremists to craft sensible legislation, but I had hope that Hillary Clinton could manage to keep the government doing its job using the pragmatism that truthfully is her nature.
I had described Donald Trump as the equivalent of the joke candidate that often ends up on the Student Council ballot in high school but never wins, because – even in that low stakes setting – an electorate has some sense. To those who couldn’t imagine Hilary Clinton as President, I offered that, if she won, there would be a divided government in which little would be done. This, I explained, was a traditional Republican’s dream outcome.
I took a long time to regain my sense of balance in what seemed a world turned upside down. Outright racist conduct suddenly became public and common. Much of what had been crafted to assist those on the margins of society was suddenly on the table for repeal. The small steps taken over decades to end environmental protections for ourselves and our children were set to be walked back.
The shocks came almost like physical blows to me, as one who cares about people and their future. If that makes me a liberal, I’ll accept your label, though I prefer being considered simply thoughtful in both meanings of the word. Regardless, I genuinely feared for the survival of what we take for granted as the world we have lived in. This was, after all, a candidate who, when briefed on the nuclear arsenal to be at his fingertips, asked why we couldn’t simply use nuclear weapons.
Nothing that Donald Trump did following the election gave me comfort. Many of his Cabinet appointees were openly hostile to the laws and values that their agencies were to enforce and pursue. The list is long, and the addition of family members and right wing ideologues to his inner circle left me shaking my head somewhere between disbelief and disabling fear.
Out of the free fall that I felt our world had stepped into, I slowly found voices of reason coming from places once tagged by many as extremists in their own right. The ACLU, which has always been stalwartly devoted to the Constitution as the lodestar for the country, spoke up saying it intended to see Donald Trump in court. Many thousands of donors added their support. Planned Parenthood received unheard of support from a great many who feared all the good they do might be thrown out with the bathwater, an apt metaphor. Other voices followed, leaving me still reeling, but knowing that I was far from alone. I am grateful for their courage, dedication and thoughtfulness. They are who actually have made America great, along with those of every background who work every day to make a place for themselves in a world that they make better and safer for all.
Sometimes through the courage of only one, we have survived demagogues set on gaining power through spreading fear through lies. Consider the integrity of the Army’s lawyer, Joseph Welch, who said to Joseph McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” His voice of reason and compassion exposed the Senator for the fraud that he was. When Welch finished, the record shows that the audience applauded. McCarthy soon fell from favor and died three years later, a nearly-friendless alcoholic.
We live in a time and place in which lies are accepted as the truth by those whose ends they serve. “Alternative facts” now abound and sadly, our sitting President not only openly lies, but clearly believes his lies himself. I hope the majority of us still all agree that no one is above the truth.
It is too soon to reflect on the most recent claim that President Obama wiretapped candidate and President-Elect Trump. Far from all has been said. I hope, however, that seemingly paranoid Twitter rants from the early morning hours will be judged by the light of day and the truth that it exposes. We need more than mere decency now. We need sincere thinking, far-sighted judgment and decisions that have common ground.
If you are the praying type, this is a good time. If your voice is for hearing by those merely around you, have the decency to use it.
Follow up: The FBI Director has now testified before Congress, saying that he has found no basis for the President’s wiretap claim. More forbiddingly, he confirmed that the FBI is investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
It took over two years for the Watergate scandal to force President Nixon to resign. History may not repeat itself and the truth does not always reveal itself. Still, time will tell.